Victoria Azarenka struck a blow for the younger generation by beating Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 6-2, 6-3 to join a trio of 31-year-olds in the semi-finals of the US Open on Wednesday.
The 24-year-old Belarussian, the second seed and runner-up last year, will play unseeded Italian Flavia Pennetta, while defending champion Serena Williams meets Li Na of China in today’s semi-finals.
The win moved Australian Open champion Azarenka one step closer to a possible Arthur Ashe court rematch against Williams for the title.
Pennetta reached her first Grand Slam semi-final on Wednesday by beating longtime friend and Fed Cup teammate 30-year-old Roberta Vinci, the 10th-seed, 6-4, 6-1.
In the women’s doubles, Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan and Peng Shuai of China were defeated by 6-4, 7-6 (5) by Indian-Chinese duo Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie, while Serena and Venus Williams of the US trounced Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Lucie Safarova (11) of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6 (3).
Azarenka is well aware she is battling the “old guard” in the last four.
“I’m a baby, what can I say?” she added.
“It’s amazing to see athletes doing so well, their careers longer so fans and themselves can enjoy their careers much better,” she said. “Everybody looks much fitter, really taking care of their body and taking the sport to the next level.
Pennetta, ranked 83rd as she battles back from surgery on an injured right wrist, said times had changed for veteran players on the women’s side.
“I think we just keep playing. Before, the career of the woman was shorter they retired early,” she said.
The good-natured match between friends who have competed against one another since they were 10 became a rout by the second set, which Pennetta closed in 24 minutes against an error-prone Vinci.
On the men’s side, second seed Rafael Nadal continued his remarkable form this year, improving his hardcourt record to 20-0 with a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 hammering of fellow Spaniard Tommy Robredo.
Next up for Nadal is France’s Richard Gasquet, who will be playing in the semi-final stage of a slam for the first time since Wimbledon in 2007.
Robredo spoiled what would have been the first meeting at the US Open between Nadal and all-time Grand Slam king Roger Federer after the 31-year-old Spaniard sent the Swiss master packing in straight sets in the fourth round.
Nadal, who has come back from knee injuries that sidelined him for seven months to win nine tournaments, including his eighth French Open for his 12th Grand Slam crown, bounded for joy after steamrolling another opponent at Arthur Ashe.
“I think I played my best match in the US Open this year,” said 2010 US Open winner Nadal, who has lost just one set from five matches.
Eighth-seeded Gasquet booked his long awaited return to the last four of a men’s slam with a 6-3, 6-1, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3 upset of fourth seed David Ferrer of Spain.
It was the second successive five-setter for the 27-year-old Gasquet, who clinched the concluding set of a marathon fourth-round match against big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic 7-5.
Gasquet had lost eight of nine previous matches against Ferrer. The hill could be even steeper against Nadal, who has won all 10 of their professional encounters.
“Rafa, I never beat. Last time I beat him I was 13 years old,” Gasquet said. “That was the only time I beat him. He’s a good friend of mine. I have nothing to lose.”
Playing in just the second grand slam quarter-final of his career, 27-year-old Gasquet went all out against Ferrer, using his trademark one-handed backhand to near perfection as he closed him out in three hours and 23 minutes.
Gasquet broke the Spaniard — a model of consistency with trips to the quarters or better in the last eight slams — on a double fault at break point for a 4-2 lead in the fifth set.
He ended it with a bristling forehand for his 52nd winner.